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New Kensington-Arnold School District eyes possible 5% tax jump

| Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, 12:51 a.m.

The New Kensington-Arnold School Board on Thursday approved a preliminary 2015-16 budget that could raise property taxes by as much as 5 percent.

Business Manager Jeff McVey warned that the $33.7 million spending plan and tax levy are tentative because they use estimated costs that likely will change before the final budget must be approved in June.

Because the district plans to ask the Pennsylvania Department of Education for permission to raise taxes above next year's inflation-based cap of 2.8 percent, McVey said it must present a preliminary budget now.

The board isn't bound to raise taxes by the full 5 percent, which would take the property tax rate from 83.2745 mills to 87.5 mills.

McVey said the district plans to seek state permission to exceed that tax cap because of increasing employee pension and special education costs, though he's not certain the district will qualify for the latter.

As presented, the budget would drain the district's $2.4 million reserve fund and still have a slight deficit, even with the tax increase.

The board Thursday did not address plans for bringing the budget into the black. In December, Superintendent John Pallone said cuts may be necessary, including staff furloughs that were avoided in the recent school consolidation.

Project wish list

Board members and district officials hope to present estimates at the Feb. 26 meeting for a wish list of projects that may be financed through a small bond issue.

The board wants to take advantage of low interest rates to refinance nearly $3 million from a previous bond as well as consider issuing new bonds. The maximum total bond issue, including the refinancing, has been capped at $7 million, though officials said the total likely will be less.

Board Vice President Pat Petit, who oversees the finance and buildings and grounds committees, said if any projects need to be completed in the near future, they should try to use the bond money to complete them because rates could be as low as 1.7 percent.

The wish list included more than a dozen possible projects and purchases, such as resurfacing the track, upgrading the security cameras and bell/public announcement system, redistributing elementary playground equipment and adding parking at Roy A. Hunt Elementary School.

Some of the more expensive items proposed included replacing boilers at Hunt Elementary for about $650,000; replacing the few remaining sections of old roof at the high school for at least $400,000; and replacing the high school gym floor and ceiling for about $310,000.

Better figures were needed for two other potentially expensive projects: a small addition to the Hunt building and re-carpeting the artificial turf at Valley Memorial Stadium in several years.

Petit said the building will temporarily need about four more classrooms to account for a “bubble” class moving through the elementary grades. He said the district needs to consider either installing temporary classrooms and adding a small, one-story addition.

Board member George Zavadak was adamant against paying for modular, temporary classrooms; several others agreed.

Facilities Director Mike Orr said a bare-bones, 60-by-60-foot addition onto the front of the school could cost as much as $900,000 using engineering standards, a figure Petit thought was too high. Other figures proposed were $250,000 to $400,000.

Board member Laura Varner-Norman said she'd prefer to reopen Fort Crawford Elementary School than pay for an addition.

Orr said he's awaiting a quote on the cost of replacing the turf. Athletic Director William “Muzzy” Colosimo estimated the cost at $300,000.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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